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Growing Culinary Herbs

A Photo Of ClaireNothing entices, enthralls, and brings back pleasant memories like the smells that come from a kitchen in full cooking mode. And those mouth-watering aromas owe much of their power to the herbs that grace the recipes. When cooking with herbs, using the freshest product makes all the difference in flavor and aroma. To make sure that you always have a supply of fresh herbs, why not grow your own?

The great thing about growing your own herbs is that many can be planted in containers on your windowsill or back porch. You can keep them growing year-round in a closet with grow lights if you're up to it. Most herbs prefer full sun but many will thrive in partial shade. Your soil should be rich and should drain well. Here is a short list of herbs to consider for your culinary garden.

Arugula: whether you consider this peppery taste sensation as a salad green or a salad herb, Arugula should definitely be on your list. Plant in the spring or fall as Arugula prefers cooler temperatures. Be ready to harvest after about 40 days.

Bay leaves: also known as sweet bay or bay laurel, this shrub will grow to several feet in time. You can add the leaves to soups, stock, stuffing or marinades. When using bay leaves, you'll find that you can cut down on salt without losing flavor. Remove the leaves after cooking. Bay can be planted in a pot and then brought indoors during the winter. If your climate is not too harsh in the winter, Bay can be planted outdoors where it can reach up to 20 feet in height.

Bay Laurel
A sprig of Bay Laurel from my shrub which is over 6 feet tall. 

Marjoram: beautiful and tasty, marjoram is a welcome addition to meat dishes because of its mild sweetness. Use it fresh or dried and add it toward the end of your cooking so that you don’t lose its delicate flavor. It can be grown from seed in the spring or from cuttings in the summer. If you like to winter garden, then propagate by root division in the fall. Grow in the ground or a pot. Marjoram will grow upright to about two feet and will spread about two feet across.

Lemongrass: tufts of green shoots will add lively interest to your plantings as well as your recipes. Often found in Asian dishes lemongrass is true to its name by adding a citrus flavor to foods. Use it dried, powdered or fresh. Like any grass it will spread so you can propagate by trimming to about two inches then dividing. It's a good idea to divide your Lemongrass each year. In cold climates bring it inside during the winter.

Rosemary: in my opinion no garden is complete without the amazing combination of green needle-like leaves and violet flowers that is Rosemary. Related to the mint, Rosemary is a hearty evergreen shrub that will grow in many climates. It adds flavor to both meat and vegetable dishes. Be sure to try Rosemary tea. Crush the leaves before steeping them. To grow Rosemary, start with a nursery plant rather than seed. Water frequently the first growing season then decrease watering frequency once the plant is established.  

Flowers with Rosemary
Rosemary adds interest to plantings as well as recipes. 

Thyme: used in a wide variety of cuisines, Thyme offers subtle a combination of lemon and mint flavor to soups, sauces, meat, fish, and poultry. It can take a year to grow from seed, so if you're not the patient type you'll want to get started with a potted plant from your nursery. There are many types of Thyme. Some are creeping and some are clumping. You can grow yours in pots, gardens, or even between stepping stones where their aroma will fill the air when stepped upon.

Savory: there are two types of Savory, summer and winter which is the more pungent of the two. Often called "the bean herb" Savory is often used in beans and soups as well as a flavoring for meat and poultry. Savory can be started from seed indoors and then moved into the garden after about 7 weeks. Don't cover the seeds with soil as they need light to germinate. It will grow to a height of about 18 inches and will make a real impact along a perennial border or in a hanging basket.

These are just a few of the culinary herbs that you'll want to think about adding to your garden. Once you get started, you'll be captivated by the many beauties and benefits to be enjoyed from these flavorful members of Nature's bounty.